# Does the notion of the relativity of truth incriminate itself?

Continuing the discussion from "I declare ONLY suffering and its cessation." — The Buddha, indeed:

Trying to split the topic to aid on-topic discussion here. Not sure if this is the right way to do it?

In the end we also let go of the Dhamma.

No, the notion of the relativity of truth does not necessarily incriminate itself. The notion will lead to inconsistency in some logical systems, but not in others. It all depends upon the formulation of the a priori rules of the logical system wherein we place such a notion of the relativity of truth.

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The Dhamma is relative, since its dependently originated.

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@Ceisiwr I wonder what you make of this:

Their freedom, being founded on truth, is unshakable. For that which is false has a deceptive nature, while that which is true has an undeceptive nature—extinguishment. Therefore a mendicant thus endowed is endowed with the ultimate resolve of truth. For this is the ultimate noble truth, namely, that which has an undeceptive nature—extinguishment.

MN 140

Do you think this too is relative?

I am not aware of anywhere else in the Pali canon or Chinese Agama’s where the Teacher speaks so categorically. The undeceptive nature quote for me indicates this is a very deep and profound statement. In fact, I think the implication here is that short of nibbāna, everything else is deceptive in nature and therefore falls short of truth.

Something I’m unsure of: for me this statement above when formulated in the logic system I think the Teacher used corresponds to what I would call a non-affirming negation. It is not an ultimate truth. However, it is my hypothesis that the Teacher making this statement was not a statement made out of a logical conclusion or proof; a truth reached or known through logic. Rather, I take it that the Teacher was invoking a statement of direct insight that cannot be reached through logic. That’s my best guess anyway.

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Well the standard type of argument made against relative truth goes something like as follows:

1. All truth is relative
2. Therefore, [1] is relative
3. Therefore, not all truth is relative
4. Contradiction
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Note the universal qualifier and the assumptions of the logical rules in that formula though. For example, fuzzy logic systems would have no problem with the above when correctly re-formulated.

Unless you are going to reify nibbāna, nibbāna is empty. Emptiness of course too is empty, and so all notions of true or false are left behind along with all other conditioned things.

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Yes, but this is not what I’m after. It is deeper than that. I take your statement as akin to Nagarjuna’s and Chandrakirti’s enthusiastic taking of the horn and proclaiming of course emptiness is itself empty. Which is not problematic for me. I’m talking about something deeper: whether or not a direct realization outside of logic can be equated with what for me would be considered a constructive logical proof as opposed to a refutation by contradiction.

I wouldn’t say a contradiction, but rather the Dhamma abolishes itself in the end. Its a raft for crossing.

When this had been said, Anathapindika the householder said to the wanderers, “As for the venerable one who says, ‘The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless. This is the sort of view I have,’ his view arises from his own inappropriate attention or in dependence on the words of another. Now this view has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently originated. Whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently originated, that is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. This venerable one thus adheres to that very stress, submits himself to that very stress.” (Similarly for the other positions.)

When this had been said, the wanderers said to Anathapindika the householder, “We have each & every one expounded to you in line with our own positions. Now tell us what views you have.”

“Whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently originated, that is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. Whatever is stress is not me, is not what I am, is not my self. This is the sort of view I have.”

“So, householder, whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently originated, that is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. You thus adhere to that very stress, submit yourself to that very stress.”

“Venerable sirs, whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently originated, that is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. Whatever is stress is not me, is not what I am, is not my self. Having seen this well with right discernment as it actually is present, I also discern the higher escape from it as it actually is present.”

AN 10.93: Kiṁdiṭṭhikasutta—Thanissaro Bhikkhu (suttacentral.net)

The ultimate truth is the absence of ultimate truth.

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This is provocative, but if taken literally I think it is quite wrong. If it is figurative in order to encourage the letting go of fixed views, then sure. If taken as a fixed view “the Dhamma abolishes itself” is among the worst possible. It is tantamount to saying that relative truth does indeed incriminate itself necessarily; but this just isn’t true.

Rather it is more like relative truth is truth; just relative. But to say you can use relative truth to rule out the possibility of ultimate truth is mistaken. If you wish to rule out ultimate truth you need to do that through a constructive logical proof of such which will be impossible; or have a direct realization that is beyond the scope of logic - which may or may not be possible. Only the enlightened ones know for sure.

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How can you have objective truth when everything we experience is dependently arisen, and so is without substance? Even the notion of nibbāna has to be let go of eventually.

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Words can easily lead us into trouble here, but I’m going to attempt to speak “your language” so to speak

The objective truth - if there is one - cannot be arrived at through logic. I’m pretty clear on that or at least this is my strong hypothesis. I also am with you when you say the notion of nibbāna has to be let go of. I don’t think nibbāna - if there is such - can be arrived at through logic either.

The best I can deduce I think you are speaking about emptiness according to the prasangika - in which case nibbāna is equated with the direct perception of emptiness in the meditative equipoise of an arya being. If this is the case, then here is what I can say:

• I do not perceive that I’ve had any such experience so all I have are hypothesis not experiences
• Understanding emptiness can be approached though logic and from a prasangika view is equivalent to understanding the non-affirming negation one arrives at when subjecting anything to ultimate analysis
• This is equivalent to the refutation by contradiction in a constructive logical system
• In a constructive logical system there is a possibility of actually proving an affirming truth
• This would be equivalent to finding something that actually held up under ultimate analysis
• It might be possible to think of an arya being’s direct perception of emptiness in meditative equipoise to just such a finding of something - in this case that something would be what in logic we say is a refutation by contradiction - and if this is the case that something would be an “objective truth” or “nibbāna”
• I have not ruled this out and see no way it is possible to rule it out through logic
• The statement the Teacher made in MN 140 might be considered in light of the above possibility

If you are unfamiliar with the terms I use above ‘prasangika’, ‘non-affirming negation’, ‘arya being’, ‘meditative equipoise’, ‘emptiness’, then I apologize for the babble above and please disregard as ravings of an ignorant one.

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I’m familiar with the terminology. Tsongkhapa’s non-affirming negation wouldn’t get you to objective truth. A reductio ad absurdum argument doesn’t establish anything, as I’m sure you know. If you say Buddha’s or Arahants find something objectively true, this is the same as saying they found an atta.

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Agreed.

I’m not saying they did find something, but I cannot rule out the possibility through logic or at least I don’t know how to using reductio ad absurdum.

I don’t think it is true to say, “this is the same as saying they found an atta” because the thing I’m unsure whether they find or not would be properly labeled as a “non-affirming negation.”

I’m unsure how to comprehend or imagine the experience of directly knowing what I’ve only approached through logic as a non-affirming negation.

Directly knowing - as opposed to arriving at through logic - a non-affirming negation sounds like a wild experience and I’m not sure it necessarily implies an atta or anything at all. Not sure it can be described in words at all even though here I am attempting to describe in words something I’ve never experienced and which I say probably can’t be described in words.

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If they found something objective, nothing would change.

I don’t think it is true to say, “this is the same as saying they found an atta” because the thing I’m unsure whether they find or not would be properly labeled as a “non-affirming negation.”

If they found something substantial, that would be the same as finding an atta.

I’m unsure how to comprehend or imagine the experience of directly knowing what I’ve only approached through logic as a non-affirming negation.

Its interesting to note that in the “Ocean of Reasoning” Tsongkhapa uses more than a non-implicative negation to make his arguments.

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I’m not sure that finding a non-affirming negation would qualify it as substantial.

While I am quite familiar with this text I still don’t know what you are implying

Can you give page number or reference for what you mean?

It wouldn’t, no. A non-affirming negation doesn’t establish anything.

While I am quite familiar with this text I still don’t know what you are implying

Can you give page number or reference for what you mean?

I’m not implying anything. I don’t have a copy to hand at the moment, but he uses a range of arguments throughout the book.

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Hey, y’all should define what you mean by ‘truth’ – it is not trivial and there are many theories of what truth is in philosophy

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